A lawsuit filed on behalf of a former Auburn employee last week alleges that the school changed a grade for a former football player to allow him to remain eligible for the team’s appearance in the Outback Bowl.
Travis Thomas Sr., a former director of academic support services at Auburn’s athletics department, filed the suit in a district court. Thomas was fired by Auburn on March 1.
According to the lawsuit, which was reported on by AL.com, Auburn “caused, or allowed to be caused, significant pressure to be placed on” a university professor to change a failing grade of D to a passing grade of C for a player identified as an Auburn football graduate transfer from Arizona State."
According to AL.com former Auburn tight end Jay Jay Wilson is the only player from the 2019 roster that fits that description but FERPA laws require anonymity in the case.
“Mr. Thomas’s complaint does not include facts to support his allegations of discrimination, and Auburn will not further discuss the details of this personnel matter,” Auburn said in a statement released to AL.com on Monday afternoon. “However, Auburn is compelled to clarify that Mr. Thomas’s complaint includes egregious mischaracterizations regarding the academic record of a student athlete who was under his mentorship. Prior to filing this lawsuit, Auburn informed Mr. Thomas that this information was inaccurate. His decision to make false and damaging statements about a student for his personal benefit cannot be ignored. Auburn will use all available legal resources to protect our students and to defend the University against the allegations in the complaint.”
A week before the bowl game, the professor of the course sent an email refusing to change Wilson’s grade. However, between the time that email was sent and the New Year’s Day bowl game, however, “said professor was caused to change her mind, or simply changed her mind, and accordingly changed the grade,” which allowed Wilson to play in the Outback Bowl and allegedly permitted Auburn to add graduate transfers to its 2020 roster.
In the complaint, Thomas says he was aware of the suspicious grade change for over a year, as were his three white female supervisors — senior associate athletics director Dr. Kathryn Flynn, associate AD Cathie Helmbold and associate AD Courtney Gage. The complaint also alleges that his supervisors knew that Thomas was aware of the situation, which is one of the reasons his “three white female supervisors wanted him out of the Academic division of the Auburn University Athletic Department.”
Thomas’ attorney, Julian McPhillips, said Thomas felt threatened by Auburn athletics director of compliance Rich McGlynn who told him that “because Auburn’s rules require employees to report anything that might be a ‘potential violation’, (Thomas) could be subject to termination for failure to do so.”
Thomas notes that he told McGlynn that he would only be “speculating” that there was a violation, but also adds that he brought up that matter during a meeting but that it was “laughed off by people present, as if no big deal.”